There are seven more COVID-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of clinical trials, and a further two dozen in pre-clinical trials, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said Tuesday as he and his wife, Nutan Goel, took their second dose of Covaxin at the Delhi Heart And Lung Institute.
“Around seven more Covid vaccine candidates are in clinical trials. Some of them are in advanced phases of the trials. Around two dozen vaccines are in pre-clinical trials,” Dr Vardhan said.
At present India has two vaccines – AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – and both are being used for the national vaccination drive that began January.
The two were cleared by the DCGI (Drug Controller General of India) in early January, but red flags were waved after Covaxin was approved without late-stage trial data. In the initial weeks of the vaccination drive the vaccine was refused by some, including doctors, over safety concerns.
Early this month, though, Bharat Biotech released a “first interim analysis” of trial data and said the vaccine was 81 per cent effective. Covishield, meanwhile, is around 70 per cent effective.
Dr Vardhan laid stress on that point: “Both Indian vaccines are safe and effective. A lot of people still have doubts… I urge them not to believe what is being circulated in ‘WhatsApp University’.”
“There are only a few rare cases where people contracted COVID-19 after taking vaccines,” he added, explaining that even if someone tested positive after getting the vaccine, the drug “minimalises chances of hospitalization or admission to ICU wards”.
As of 8 am this morning over 6.1 crore vaccines had been administered across India – mostly to frontline and healthcare workers, people over 60, and those over 45 with specified illnesses.
The move to widen the vaccine net comes as India faces an alarming surge of new cases; over 56,000 were reported this morning, taking the country’s active caseload to nearly 5.5 lakh. On Monday over 68,000 new cases were reported – the most in a day since October.
Dr Vardhan, however, pointed out that the spike in cases appeared localised to certain states – such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. “430 districts in the country have not reported a single Covid case in the last 28 days,” he said.
Nevertheless, the wave of infections has left authorities, experts and members of the public worried, particularly with a number of mutated Covid strains – including one with a “double mutation” discovered in Maharashtra in December – having been identified.
In response to these concerns, Dr Vardhan today stressed that “the situation is under control” but also urged people to continue to follow all Covid-appropriate behaviour, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing when outdoors, as well as washing hands frequently.
Meanwhile, there are a number of other vaccines – such as those by US companies Pfizer and Moderna, and Russia’s Sputnik V – used in other countries but have yet to be cleared by India, although Sputnik V has applied for emergency approval.
All three have reported over 90 per cent efficacy rates.
Among the vaccines currently being tested in India is another by Bharat Biotech – an intranasal drug that offers a “needle-free approach for vaccine administration”.